Chris Tillman was having a nightmare season through May, racking up seven losses and an ERA that refused to dip much below six. It took another eight starts, but he finally has his ERA under five and his record evened.
The Baltimore Orioles right-hander enters Friday night's series opener at Tampa Bay as the hotter pitcher in a matchup with the Rays' Chris Archer while both teams continue to slide in the AL East.
Tillman (7-7, 4.96 ERA) was 2-7 with a 5.94 ERA through his first 10 starts, but he's since gone 5-0 with a 3.80 ERA after picking up his latest victory in Saturday's 3-0 win at Detroit. He limited the Tigers to a hit with eight strikeouts in eight innings for his best start of the season - a form his manager expected to resurface all along.
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"A little reminder, Chris was one of the best pitchers last year in the American League," Buck Showalter told MLB's official website. "It's one of the best offensive teams in the league, maybe in baseball. So that makes it doubly impressive."
He faced the Rays three times during his dark months this season and lost the last two, but Tillman is 2-3 with a 2.95 ERA in seven career starts at Tropicana Field. Kevin Kiermaier (1 for 12) and James Loney (4 for 27) have struggled against Tillman, but Evan Longoria is 15 for 40 with six home runs, three doubles and a 1.344 OPS.
Archer (9-7, 2.73), who has flipped rotation spots with Erasmo Ramirez to work on regular rest, suffered his third loss in a four-start winless stretch in Sunday's 4-0 defeat in Toronto after surrendering two runs and five hits in seven innings.
"Pitch execution," Archer said. "I had a pretty good feel with everything. The time off (for the All-Star beak) was nice. I was able to rejuvenate. I executed pitches, my body felt pretty fresh."
It was a huge improvement over a 9-7 defeat in Kansas City on July 8 in which the right-hander gave up a career-high nine runs, but the Rays are still waiting on him to return to his dominant self.
That hasn't happened this year against Baltimore with two losses dropping him to 1-4 with a 5.65 ERA in six career starts in the series. Chris Davis (3 for 8) and Caleb Joseph (2 for 4) have both homered off Archer, but Adam Jones is 2 for 17.
Davis homered for a second straight game Thursday, but the lineup was held to four hits for a second straight game and wasn't able to keep up with the New York Yankees in a 9-3 loss. The Orioles (46-48) have dropped three straight and 14 of 19 while batting .225 to fall seven back in the East, while the Rays (48-49) are a half game ahead of that.
Baltimore has won five of nine in the season series, including taking two of three in both sets played at Tampa Bay.
The Rays also dropped four of six in Philadelphia and Toronto, including Wednesday's 5-4 loss to the Phillies before an off day Thursday. The trip dropped them to 8-19 dating to June 21 with one series victory. Longoria is in a 2-for-28 slump, is 2 for his last 20 at home and his .262 average is at its lowest since April 24.
"Kind of a little bit of a gut check for all of us," manager Kevin Cash said. "Myself included. If 24 hours off helps evaluate that, then so be it. But we need to kind of flip a switch here now."